What is it about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that fascinates us so much?
Alice has experienced a real rise in cultural awareness over the past decade or so – countless reimaginings, paintings, tattoos, movies, books … in short, Alice is everywhere. But it’s not exactly the Alice as penned by Lewis Carroll.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the companion, Through the Looking Glass, have been analyzed every which way from Oz since they were written. As an English major, I’ve delved into some of the analyses myself. But sometimes I wonder if the books aren’t just something as simple as a man trying to write a story to entertain a little girl. Obviously the nature of Carroll’s relationship with the real ‘Alice’ has been debated since it began, but exactly how much can we make of something when we’ll never even know the truth for sure?
The answer, apparently, is that we can make quite a lot of it.
Most of the Alice adaptations that have come along as of late are darker – spinning Wonderland as a world that isn’t full of silly nonsense, but rather dangerous madness. Then again, aren’t those things actually two sides of the same coin? A notion of how quickly ridiculousness can turn to insanity.
I think that perhaps what keeps us so fascinated by Carroll’s work is that it is completely made-up and absurd. Therefore, it lends itself to endless interpretations because there is no ‘reality’ on which to base it. Is it merely a children’s book? Is it a political allegory? A social one? Is it deeply troubled? Is it the result of inappropriate sexual attraction?
The most intriguing part, of course, is that we’ll never know. But then I also have a feeling that Alice is to us whatever she needed to be when we came upon her. And now that we’ve grown up, our ideas about what those books mean have grown up, too.
I think one of the reasons Alice has crossed into the public psyche again so strongly is because we’re living in a world where escape isn’t just for fun, it’s something that is necessary. Children are not so innocent anymore, and the darker side of human nature is, I think, something that we as a general public are more aware of than we might have been at another point in time. And of course, the intrigue and stifled sexuality of the Victorian era seems to be a subject of current fascination.
Then again, maybe we just like to reimagine the story because we want it to be something different than what it is. Maybe it isn’t ‘enough’ for us now that we’ve grown up, and we’re searching for something more. Something darker, that matches with the difficulties we’ve faced as our childhoods ended and something new began.
I’m not sure, but perhaps we should ask Alice.